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Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 1, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307958345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307958341
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Award-winning historian, Harvard professor, and New Yorker staff writer Lepore, whose The Mansion of Happiness (2012) was a Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist, was intrigued to learn that Benjamin Franklin and his youngest sister, Jane, were so close they were called Benny and Jenny. Renowned, world-traveling brother and obscure, homebound sister exchanged loving, newsy, bantering letters for more than 60 years. Most of his were preserved, while three decades’ worth of hers disappeared. This near-erasure, along with the gender bias that determined the vast differences in the siblings’ education, opportunities, and experiences, become as much a focus in this zestfully rigorous portrait as Jane herself. The most poignant artifact Lepore unearthed was Jane’s handmade “Book of Ages,” recording the birth of her 12 children and, excruciatingly, the eventual deaths of all but one of them. In spite of the tragedies she endured, Jane’s surviving letters are “gabby, frank, and vexed,” the correspondence of a smart, witty, hardworking woman who “loved best books about ideas,” reveled in gossip, expressed “impolite” opinions on religion and politics, and shared piquant observations of the struggle for American independence. By restoring Jane so vividly to the historical record, Lepore also provides a fresh, personal perspective on Benjamin. And so extraordinarily demanding was her research, even the appendixes in Lepore’s vibrantly enlightening biography are dramatic. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Lepore’s stature grows with each book, and this first telling of a remarkable American story, supported by a national tour and generous print run, is destined for an even greater readership. --Donna Seaman


**The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2013**
**Barnes and Noble Best Books of 2013**
**Kirkus Best Books of 2013**
**Time Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2013**
**The Week Best Nonfiction Books of 2013**

“By restoring Jane so vividly to the historical record, Lepore provides a fresh, personal perspective on Benjamin. And so extraordinarily demanding was her research, even the appendixes in Lepore’s vibrantly enlightening biography are dramatic….Lepore’s stature grows with each book, and this first telling of a remarkable American story, supported by a national tour and generous print run, is destined for an even greater readership.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“New Yorker writer Lepore masterfully formulates the story of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, who will be virtually unknown to many readers, using only a few of her letters and a small archive of births and deaths….Jane Franklin was an amazing woman who raised her children and grandchildren while still having the time to read and think for herself. We can only see into her mind because her correspondent was famous and because a vastly talented biographer reassembled her for us.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“This book is an important, inspiring portrait of a determined and faith-filled woman who just happened to be the sister of a big shot. It will be enjoyed by all.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Jane Franklin’s indomitable voice and hungry, searching intellect shine through these pages; she will not be forgotten, and the world is richer for it.” —Time Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the Year

“Luminous….Lepore gives us a woman in the flesh, with no hints and hedges about what she must, or might, have felt….Jane emerges as witty, curious, and resilient in the face of unimaginable grief, yet she is not an unsung hero of the revolution, a forgotten Abigail Adams. Her importance, as Lepore’s portrait memorably shows, lies in her ordinariness—her learning thwarted by circumstance, but her intelligence shaped by her uniquely female experience. We may know about Jane Franklin only because of her famous brother, but he is not why she matters.” —Joanna Scutts, Washington Post

“As she stitches together Jane’s story, Lepore gives us a side of Benjamin Franklin we have never seen—an evocative look at what life was like for most 18th-century women.” —Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

Book of Ages is the name of Lepore’s extraordinary new book about Jane Franklin, but to call it simply a biography would be like calling Ben’s experiments with electricity mere kite flying….The end product is thrilling—an example of how a gifted scholar and writer can lift the obscure out of silence. In so doing, Lepore enriches our sense of everyday life and relationships and conversational styles in Colonial America….The brilliance of Lepore’s book is that plain Jane’s story becomes every bit as gripping—and, in its own way, important—as Big Ben’s public triumphs.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“In this beautifully written double biography, Lepore brings into focus not just the life of Jane Franklin Mecom, alongside that of her brother, but illuminates the dynamic era through which they lived and gives us a birds’-eye view of history from the vantage point of a powerless woman who grew up in a Boston family alongside one of the 18th century’s greatest authors, entrepreneurs, scientists and statesmen….Remarkably, in the end Jane’s story comes to life; we know her or at least about her. But, in fact, we know her because her life is one that we recognize, perhaps better than that of her familiar brother. That is the brilliance of this book….This lyrical and meditative book ranks familiarly as a history or biography, but is more than either….It descends historiographically from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “A Midwife’s Tale” as a classic and enduring tribute to an obscure woman, only this one also had a famous brother.” —Edith B. Gelles, San Francisco Chronicle

“Ms. Lepore is a fantastic historian, and meticulous research brings this portrait to life….In the hands of a less accomplished writer, Jane Franklin might have appeared merely a pale shadow in contrast to her brother’s accomplishments. But the portrait that emerges here is both frank and astute, an observant witness to the time.” —Madeleine Schwartz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“To stare at these siblings is to stare at sun and moon. But in Jill Lepore’s meticulously constructed biography, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, recently placed on the long list of nominees for the National Book Award in nonfiction, this moon casts a beguiling glow….Consistently first rate.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“This book is a tour de force that can only evoke admiration.” —Priscilla S. Taylor, The Washington Times

“Go read Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages. A biography of Jane Franklin, Benjamin’s sister, it is simultaneously a fascinating look at early America, a meditation on one remarkable mind by another, and, implicitly, a biography of all the other Janes—history’s anonymous and overlooked women.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

“It is uncanny how vividly personal, how vibrantly colored, Jane’s voice sounds from these pages….let’s call it genius.” —Melissa H. Pierson, The Barnes & Noble Review

Book of Ages is an artful, serious, marvelous book. Lepore brings to it focus, intensity, and proud delight in her subject.” —Bob Blaisdell, The Christian Science Monitor

“Eloquent….deeply sensitive to language.” —Susan Dunn, The New York Review

“Astonishing….This is a work of meticulous reconstruction and high ambition….In Book of Ages, Lepore has lovingly resurrected [Jane Franklin].” —Julia M. Klein, The Boston Globe

“A thoughtful and illuminating biography.” —O Magazine, “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”

“This is a brilliant and delightful book! By weaving together the tales of Benjamin Franklin and his beloved little sister, Jill Lepore creates a richly-textured tapestry of life in early America. Deeply researched and passionately written, it brings us inside a poignant relationship between two lovable people who seemed so different but were also so connected. I devoured this book and will treasure it.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs  
“Book of Ages is an ardently told life story, brimming with love and loss against a background of political strife and war. Jill Lepore opens a smeared casement on the life of Jane, Benjamin Franklin's gifted sister, confidante and life-long correspondent. While Benjamin was able to forge a path to greatness from his obscure beginnings, Jane, trapped by gender, starved of education, was not. The contrast between the two destinies is by turns captivating, enraging and profoundly moving. As Lepore sheds light on this one, unsung life, she brilliantly illuminates an entire era.” —Geraldine Brooks, author of March
“From scraps and whispers, Jill Lepore has resurrected Ben Franklin's youngest sister, the only relative who could truthfully say, "Every line from him was a pleasure."  The subject is tailor-made for Lepore, as artful a writer as she is exact a scholar.  She delivers two marvels at once:  An authentic 18th century female voice, cheerful, inquisitive, and saucy, as well as an intimate portrait of Jane Franklin's revered brother himself.” —Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra

“This poetic and powerful diptych takes readers on a fascinating journey. With consummate skill, Lepore moves us beyond the story of a famous brother and his woebegone sister, instead bringing both Benny and Jenny--and the relationship between them--to life. A book to ponder and prose to savor.”—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, author of A Midwife’s Tale  

"With careful and ingenious research, Jill Lepore uncovers the surprising life of the obscure sister to a very famous man. This eloquent book reveals two remarkable siblings and their intertwined and revolutionary lives." —Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812

More About the Author

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale in 1995. Her first book, "The Name of War," won the Bancroft Prize; her 2005 book, "New York Burning," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008 she published "Blindspot," a mock eighteenth-century novel, jointly written with Jane Kamensky. Lepore's most recent book, "The Whites of Their Eyes," is a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice.

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Customer Reviews

I would recommend the book for history buffs.
Linda Wheatley
In "Book of Ages," Lepore reconstructs the life of the real Jane Franklin, a younger sister of Ben.
M. Feldman
Well researched and documented, this book is a treasure.
Ginny Mapes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on July 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This remarkable history links the great Benjamin Franklin to his little-known younger sister, Jane Franklin Mecom, and in doing so explores the meaning and scope of history itself. The brother and sister, one of whom is justly celebrated for statecraft, diplomacy, and science; the other who toiled in obscurity raising (and mostly losing) children, grand-children and great-grand-children, maintained a remarkable camaraderie throughout their lives. Drawing on the few surviving letters of Jane (and the many of Benjamin), the author attempts to reconstruct the life of this spirited and intelligent woman who has been so overshadowed by her brother.

The book is not exactly a biography of Jane Mecom; in fact it's hard to classify. It is also a history of the colonial era in America, the American revolution, the culture and way of life in those times, the hardships experienced by most people, the few opportunities for women to express themselves, their limited education, the poor state of medicine in those days, the outrageous infant mortality, and the sad fate of the mentally ill. And, the author says, that's what history is really about--people who were more celebrated in fiction than in what was thought of as history. All that, rather than the names, dates, battles, and accomplishments of a few giants.

Author Jill Lepore has written a work of vast scholarship, drawing on a range of sources, that is also interesting, entertaining, and endearing. The characters come vividly to life, with all their struggles and suffering; and the emerging nation, the United States, as well. In fact author Lepore has created an amazing work from the scant historical traces of her subject, Jane.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By atmj TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I took a different tactic in reading this book that may well have shaped the review you are about to read, so it is worth mentioning. A speaker in a TED conference talked about how reading had shaped her life and one of the things she had done was read books in tandem. She chose the pairs based on either subject or a time period so she would experience a story woven from two perspectives instead of one; a kind of stereo effect. Given that I had a biography of Benjamin Franklin (by Walter Issacson) waiting to be read, to me this book was a perfect companion book. Having read several biographies about him prior, I knew that he was a man of many faces. This would give him the additional face of brother. I kept the books in synch by the years mentioned in each.

First I have to say, being born a man in that timeframe was a distinct advantage. A woman was more like a beast of burden or a living accessory. Not only what she could do was limited, but the skill sets she was "allowed to have" were too. She could be taught to read, but writing was a man's exercise, unless it benefitted her husband. Then and only then should she be taught to write. The fact that Jane Franklin could write and it was not an occupational thing had much to do with her brother flaunting this custom. This did not make him all warm and fuzzy when it came to his own wife and child however. They were very much encouraged to toe the line and fit into societal norms. Funny how that is.

In this day and age, women were all about the homefront, regardless of their interests and families were big. For a woman, this meant in her fertile years, she was most always pregnant. Jane Franklin's Book of Ages, listed one birth after another. However, many children were lost at very young ages.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Kate Stout VINE VOICE on August 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Most know of Benjamin Franklin, American entrepreneur, inventor, printer, writer, patriot and statesman. In the aftermath of the American Revolution, when he served as the American Ambassador to France, he became international famous, with his picture appearing on many every day articles.

Few know of his sister Jane, who leads a ordinary life in Franklin's hometown of Boston - marrying, suffering through a life burdened by debt, raising and losing children. But in this delightful book, the author Jill Lepore creates a lively parallel biography of the two siblings, who correspond with one another until Franklin's death, using their letters as the unifying element.

In doing so, the author paints a picture of the specifics of each person, as well as how the differences in the opportunities for men and woman shaped the lives of these people. This is done both through the thoughts of each, and by bringing in other contemporary sources. However this is not a harangue about "how women were put down"; it is described through the writings of real people of the period, and feels more like a reporting on the period.

I found their stories fascinating - though I am quite familiar with Ben Franklin, and the time period, I learned many new things, and found this a wonderful view into the life of a relatively ordinary woman of the period. Jane is less educated than her brother, and often apologizes for her spelling and writing, but is a woman with a love of thought, though for many of her child bearing years, she has no money or time to invest in books or learning. Ben Franklin leaves behind religion, while it remains an important part of Jane's life - this becomes a point of contention at times.
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